Barriers To Plant-Based Eating In Europe
Plant-based foods are better for public health, the environment, and animal welfare than animal-based products. Europeans currently eat drastically more processed meat and sugar than is recommended by health organizations, and a large fraction of individuals’ carbon footprints often comes from animal products. But encouraging consumers to make a switch to eating more plant-based foods has proven difficult.
The authors of this study surveyed 7,590 consumers in ten E.U. countries and the U.K. on the barriers preventing them from embracing plant-based eating. The survey asked each respondent to rate how much they agree or disagree with 26 statements about reasons to continue eating animal products. Reasons included, among other things, “I don’t want to change my eating habits or routine” and “I think humans are meant to eat lots of animal-based meat.” Each response consisted of “levels of agreement” on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 represented strong disagreement and 5 represented strong agreement. This allowed the authors to statistically analyze consumers’ subjective perspectives on food.
Around 60% of the respondents were omnivores, while 30% identified as flexitarians, 5% as vegetarians, 3% as pescatarians, and 2% as vegans. Overall, omnivores more strongly agreed with all 26 of the suggested statements. The statements with the strongest levels of agreement included the belief that people should eat lots of meat and worries about the taste of plant-based foods. Omnivores were also relatively concerned about nutrition. Women generally were more open to plant-based foods than men, though this was found to be a weaker factor than dietary lifestyle.
There were also regional differences in the report. Respondents in German-speaking countries showed lower agreement levels with the perceived barriers, meaning they may be more interested in plant-based foods than other respondents. Meanwhile, more so than other countries, respondents from Denmark, France, and Poland expressed a general lack of desire to change their diets and that they believe plant-based foods are inferior to meat in terms of energy, taste, and satiation. People in cities and with more education tended to show lower perceived barriers in plant-based eating.
Clear signs of progress are visible in this report. The authors note that just a few years ago, only 5% of Europeans were vegetarian, and very few seemed interested in reducing their animal product consumption. Now, 40% indicate that they eat an alternative diet, but 37% still say they are uninterested in making a dietary change, so more progress is necessary.
The authors make a few suggestions for encouraging behavioral change. These include changing social norms, which are very important in determining how people make food decisions. Advocates can focus on encouraging meatless “defaults” at food service providers and running campaigns to debunk the conventional assumptions about the taste and nutrition of plant-based diets. Finally, focusing on public health and environmental messaging may appeal to consumers’ self-interest, as meat consumption contributes significantly to chronic illness and climate change.